Real Salt Lake got its first win of the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League Tuesday. That result is the first of three that Salt Lake will need if the side wants to advance into the knock-out stage next spring.
Salt Lake next travels to Panama to play Tauro FC on September 18th and then will host Herediano in the group finale on October 23rd. Barring a surprise, Salt Lake will need to win both of those matches to advance.
How does the road ahead look? It depends upon what you look at. Part 1 of this article will look at some of the advantages of the road ahead. Part 2 will address the potential disadvantages.
Knowing Their Opponents: In these initial encounters, Salt Lake did not have any good materials for preparation. This was especially true with Herediano as the side had just recently been put together. While more footage was available on Tauro, there is something to be gained from actually playing against a side. Now Salt Lake knows how these teams will react and what to expect.
Centerbacks: Jamison Olave simply wasn’t himself in the Herediano match and wasn’t healthy enough to go in the match with Tauro. Nat Borchers was sent off from the former and subsequently not available in the latter. Even third string centerback Chris Schuler was unavailable for both matches. This meant the second half of the Herediano match, and the entire Tauro match saw a Centerback pairing of Chris Wingert and Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Both are good players, but they are fourth and five on the depth chart for a reason.
Nat Borchers will definitely be back for both matches and Olave or Schuler might be as well. Either would be a substantial improvement and will help the side. This will also allow Wingert to go back to outside back.
Herediano at Home: The series finale in October will likely be the deciding match for the group. Fortunately for Salt Lake, it is at Rio Tinto Stadium. While the fortress isn’t what it used to be for this team, it certainly still has an impact. The team has to like its chances in any home match.
Scheduling: The first two CONCACAF matches saw Salt Lake playing in the middle of a three-match week. While key players were rested to prepare, the whole side couldn’t just take off the preceding match. That won’t be a problem with either of the next two matches.
Salt Lake will have more than a week to prepare for Tauro and then six days to get ready to host Herediano.
Part 2 will come out next week and address some of the challenges of the road ahead.